Albert Pujols stands alone among modern Cardinal greats.
Albert Pujols already occupies hallowed ground in the world of St. Louis baseball. There are a number of transcendent offensive baseball players in Cardinal History: Rogers Hornsby, Albert Pujols and Stan "The Man" Musial are the big three.
The History of the St. Louis Cardinals is one of the richest baseball histories within our National Pastime. Albert Pujols is playing in his third World Series. He may end up winning his second.
What would that do to his place among the decorated list of Cardinal Greats?
First of all, when it comes to the Cardinals, there's one thing that nearly everyone agrees on. Stan Musial is probably going to be known as the greatest Cardinal ever for the foreseeable future.
Musial was so good, it's almost hard to believe some of the numbers.
He played for the Cardinals for his entire career. He was an all-star 24 times, MVP three times, batting champ seven times and World Series Champ three times. Musial collected 3630 hits over his big league career—1815 at home and 1815 on the road.
Pujols is a 10-time all-star and he's already matched "The Man's" MVP total. The Pujols legacy rests less on the winning or losing of this World Series and more on the actions he takes following the World Series' conclusion.
If Pujols chooses to stay in St. Louis, he has a real chance to secure a spot right near the top behind only Musial. It's not a slight to Pujols to assume that should he stay in St. Louis, he'll finish his career ranked behind only a man who was a 24-time all-star and a recipient of the Presidential Medal Of Freedom. It's just being logical.
Pujols will likely receive an eight-year contract and should that be the time he remains in St. Louis, that would give him a 19-year career. All in St. Louis.
That would place him ahead of a guy like Hornsby who, in spite of being one of only two men in all of Major League History to win two triple crowns on offense (1922 and 1925), spent only 13 of his 23 seasons as a member of the Cardinals.
Hornsby didn't have the same type of consistent success as Musial. He burned as bright as any star in all of baseball from 1920-1925. Baseball fans not familiar with Hornsby should really check out that six-year span. It's a collection of numbers that seem outrageous.
He hit over .400 three times in that six-year period peaking at an absurd .424 in 1924. That mark serves as the highest single-season batting average in Major League history since the end of the "dead-ball era," an era which is generally considered to have taken place from the late 1800s until 1919.
Hornsby's six-year stretch was prolific and likely overshadowed then and even now by the exploits of one Babe Ruth, who happened to be putting up some rather astounding numbers as well in the 1920s. Yet Hornsby was considered a very surly character. In stark contrast to both Pujols and Musial, he was known as abrasive as well as a chronic gambler.
Legacies aren't built exclusively on numbers. That's why Hornsby is likely behind Pujols in many Cardinal circles already. Pujols has existed in an era in which almost every prolific power hitter has been touched by the long tentacles of the performance-enhancing drug-use scandals—everyone except for Pujols, who, up until this past season, had exceeded 30 home runs and 100 RBI in every single season of his 11-year career.
Pujols has always seemed like a good guy. He's known for his numerous charitable endeavors and in 2008 was presented with the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a player who combines community service with on-field excellence.
A second World Series ring would almost assure Pujols of securing second place on the long decorated list of great St. Louis Cardinals, though some would say he's already there.
I'd say they might be correct but I'd also caution that should Pujols end up playing for the Chicago Cubs next season, this ring won't save his reputation in St Louis. He'd drop down that list and—fairly or unfairly—be lumped in with sports icons such as Lebron James who have broken the hearts of adoring and loyal fan bases.
The ring is just part of the equation. His legacy, like his contract, can be either secured long-term in St. Louis this offseason or abruptly ended.